Re-printed from a Cincinnati City Beat article by Lew Moores published in November 2006
Those who remember him recall the gray bib overalls, the railroad engineer's cap, perhaps the headband, the long hair and the black beard that really didn't seem to gray with age... The energy that was born while he was still in his 20's never really dissipated and was there right until the end when on November 15, 1996, he was shot while he sat in the Drop Inn Center as he looked up to welcome a friend and stared down the barrel of a handgun instead.
Wilbur Worthen shot him. Gray fell to the floor. Worthen fired again and again, emptying his .357-caliber Magnum.
It's been 15 years. His death at the age of 46 was a shock and an irony not lost on Gray's supporters and friends - shot and killed that day by someone he'd helped, by someone those who knew both called a friend.
For almost a quarter-century Buddy Gray made the poverty-ridden little pocket of America called Over-the-Rhine his battleground, a corner where he and others thought they could make a difference in the lives of those who lived and, for many, suffered there. They wanted to show how grassroots organizing could work. It began with the Drop Inn Center, a shelter for the homeless, and continued with local, state and national coalitions of the homeless and ReStoc, the attempt to preserve housing and thwart displacement.
From 1973 until 1996, Gray was in many ways the face of Over-the-Rhine, giving voice to the poor and homeless.
Buddy with Michael Moore for his movie 'The Big One.' Buddy was killed before the movie was completed. Photo by Jimmy Heath.
Bonnie Neumeier, a longtime friend of Gray, can close her eyes and still see Gray gliding on his bicycle through Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, parking his bike at Cincinnati City Hall, driving his truck through the neighborhood to work on abandoned houses.
She and others recall taking walks with Gray through the neighborhood.
"If you ever walked around the neighborhood with Buddy it would take a long time," Neumeier says. "Everybody knew him, everybody knew his name. He was personable. He could energize anyone. He had this sense of the collective. He wasn't a one-person movement. It's very clear he thought strategically about a mass base of people. It was never about himself alone."
That was a thorn in the side of some who saw Gray as confrontational, an obstructionist. Over-the-Rhine was a rich architectural gem, Music Hall and Washington Park among its jewels. It hugged the downtown business district. Developers thought it begging for revitalization and an infusion of the upper-class. It was ripe, ready to be picked.
Gray and his troops were in the way. His most ferocious detractors thought him a "poverty pimp," arguing that his investment in the neighborhood was in perpetuating poverty. As long as Over-the-Rhine was poor, Buddy Gray had a constituency, the argument went. He blocked development, he blocked a renaissance.
Even some city officials found him a handful.
"He wasn't one to cultivate friends, that's for sure," William Langevin, the city's director of buildings and inspections, told The Cincinnati Enquirer 10 years ago. "He was highly, highly confrontational and argumentative. But the man certainly had my respect."
But, for those who admired his tenacity and appreciated his advocacy, even a decade after his death, his presence is still felt. His impact was not ephemeral.
The Greater Cincinatti Homeless Coaltion
Cincinnati Magazine April 1982, The Underdog's Buddy
Citybeat, Lew Moores' Original Story